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Home > ‘Donnie Darko’ Movie Review and Analysis

‘Donnie Darko’ Movie Review and Analysis

Donnie Darko

"All Around Me Are Familiar Faces and Worn Out Places"

28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds. This is the time in which young Donnie Darko, played by then an unknown, raven-haired Jake Gyllenhaal, is told by a rabbit-shaped figment of his imagination that the world is going to end. In this 2001 cult classic, the main things this character goes through are: battling mental illness, fighting a man in a rabbit suit, and meeting his true love. All of this starts and ends with an airplane engine falling from a vortex, threatening all of humanity.

Donnie Darko
“Donnie Darko” Scene

Donald “Donnie” Darko is a high school student who is misunderstood. When we first meet Donnie, he seems like the typical angsty teenager. What we soon realize is that he is battling a mental illness far beyond his control. While not explicitly stated, we can conclude that he is battling Paranoid Schizophrenia. Paranoid Schizophrenia is a disease that the person sees or hears things that are not there. These figments of the person’s imagination take over their mind and life. He also sees a therapist, Dr. Thurman, to talk about what he experiences. Later in the movie, we find out he isn’t allowed to drive till he’s 21 because he burned down an abandoned building.

Next, we meet Frank. Due to his undisclosed mental illness, Donnie summons up a man in a rabbit suit. Frank is the name that is given to him through Donnie’s subconscious. Frank leads Donnie down a path of self-destruction. He destroys things in his city. He puts an ax in the head of the school mascot statue and floods the entire school, and burns down the house of a local celebrity, Jim Cunningham. Not only does this make his parents scared, but also his therapist. Donnie secretly refuses to take his meds, sleepwalks, and blames Frank for everything he does. Frank is not the only pivotal character in the film. When we see Donnie at his worst, we meet his light in his life, Gretchen.

Donnie Darko
Drew Barrymore in “Donnie Darko”

During “Donnie Darko,” we meet Gretchen. Gretchen is the guiding force in the movie. She takes Donnie through a journey that is not summoned by his mind but his reality. Gretchen shows Donnie what it truly means to be happy. As they spend more time together, Donnie’s antics do not bother Gretchen, and she loves him for who he is. This makes the audience conclude that Gretchen does not know what is happening and keeps up with his antics, so she is a figment for what Donnie could have if Frank was not destroying his life. She is what could be, not what is in Donnie’s life. As Donnie realizes that Frank is telling him the end is near, he and Gretchen rush to find Sparrow, the mysterious 100-year-old woman who walks to and from her mailbox every day. The teenagers in the town of Middlesex call her “Grandma Death.” They try to find her because one day, she whispers something into Donnie’s ear. His dad even almost hit her with his car. Donnie was also given a book she wrote, The Philosophy of Time Travel, by his science professor, Dr. Monitoff.

“Paranoid Schizophrenia is a disease that the person sees or hears things that are not there…”

As they are on their way back from the party, they get in a scuffle with the high school bullies, and Gretchen is suddenly run over and killed by someone none other than Frank. After this, Donnie shoots Frank in the eye. Instantly, a scared and frightened Donnie then runs home with Gretchen’s dead body, puts her in the front seat, and takes one of his parents’ cars to the ridge. The engine that falls from the plane creates the vortex. This is what the beginning of the film showed, and all of the events led up to Donnie standing at the ridge. This event brings us back to the beginning of the film.

Finally, As the time loops back to the beginning of the 28 days, Donnie is crushed by the airplane engine that was sucked up by the vortex, killing him instantly. As the movie concludes, we see all the teachers and professors crying and mourning about their sins and secret relationships. These include A secret relationship with his English teacher and his science professor, the public speaker crying because he was caught being a pedophile, and Frank touching the eye he lost when Donnie shot him. As the film comes to a close, we see the crushed bedroom from the outside with the giant airplane engine. We see Gretchen ride by on her bike, asking a little boy who was in the accident. He replies by saying, “Donnie Darko” and Gretchen replies by saying, “Wish I could have known him.” This gives us more insight than Donnie and Gretchen never met and how she was his savior by bringing him to finally being at peace in the afterlife. After all these wild twists and turns, we can finally concur that this is a truly mad world.

“Donnie Darko” Movie (2001)

“Donnie Darko” Official Trailer

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